Rested Russell Westbrook Fuels Rockets to Blowout Win Over Blazers

Michael Shapiro

Another night, another victory for the Rockets, who turned in perhaps their most complete performance of the season on Monday in a 132–108 win over the Blazers. Houston has now won eight straight after a shaky 3–3 start to the season, largely cruising behind the scoring brilliance of James Harden. But Monday marked more of a team effort after Harden carried the burden in Minnesota on Saturday. Russell Westbrook turned in a triple-double and Clint Capela finished with 22 points and 20 rebounds. The Rockets will rack up plenty of wins with more performances like Monday night from their dynamic trio.

Here are three takeaways from Monday's victory. 

Westbrook Fresh After Rest

Saturday's night off in Minnesota appeared to pay major dividends for Westbrook, who thrashed the Blazers on Monday with overwhelming speed and athleticism. The 2016-17 MVP was in vintage form at the Toyota Center, finishing the night with 28 points, 13 rebounds and 10 assists. The Blazers' guards didn't have the requisite size to keep Westbrook out of the paint. Their bigs couldn't contain him in transition. Westbrook turned on the afterburners late in the third quarter, closing the period with a flurry of end-to-end drives to the rim. The Westbrook of opening week returned against Damian Lillard and the Blazers

Westbrook dominated Monday's contest without a strong shooting night. He finished 9-26 from the field and 3-11 from three, dipping his three-point percentage to 22.7% on the year. But nights like Monday provided further evidence of Westbrook's effectiveness as a non-scorer. Made three-pointers are simply icing on the cake.

"We just want him to be Russell Westbrook, and that's plenty," Rockets head coach Mike D'Antoni said postgame. "Whether he makes shots or not, if he does, that's out of sight. If he doesn't, that's fine." 

Capela Dominates Paint

Capela's concussion came at a truly inopportune time for the 25-year-old center. Capela notched his third straight 20-rebound game against the Clippers on Nov. 13, becoming the first Rocket since Moses Malone to gobble up 20-plus rebounds in three consecutive games. But the concussion didn't slow Capela in the slightest when he returned to the floor on Monday. 

Capela bullied the Blazers inside in Houston's victory, taking advantage of Portland's undersized front line en route to his best performance of the season. He finished the night with 22 points and four blocks, and his 20-rebound streak continued for the fourth straight game. The last Rocket to secure 20 rebounds in four consecutive outings? Elvin Hayes in 1971. Capela is in good company as he anchors the Rockets' interior. 

Harden Continues Scoring Tear

It's a testament to Harden's scoring brilliance that a 36-point night dipped his scoring average in 2019-20. But don't think the two-time scoring champion had an off night against Portland. Harden buried five threes and finished the night 11-19 from the field, shaking every coverage thrown at him by Portland head coach Terry Stotts. Harden spun around double teams and unleashed his usual slate of step-backs. He generated a slew of easy looks at the tin, toying with rookie Nassir Little throughout the evening. The game's top scorer remains at the peak of his powers.

Westbrook marveled at his teammate's brilliance postgame. 

"A lot of people like to normalize greatness when you see it over and over again," Westbrook said. "But it’s not normal because there’s nobody else that can do it.”

Harden is now averaging 39.2 points per game after Monday's win, still on pace to break the three-point era scoring record set by Michael Jordan at 1986-87. A third straight scoring title looks to be a near-guarantee.

Up Next: at Denver on Wednesday

The Rockets will look to earn their ninth straight victory on Wednesday night as they head to the Rocky Mountains for a date with Nikola Jokic and the Nuggets. The Western Conference contender has sprinted out to a 9–3 start in 2019-20, though the Nuggets' offense has taken a step back from last season's No. 6 offensive rating. Expect Nikola Jokic to improve his 24.6% mark from three as the season continues. 

Tip-off at the Pepsi Center is set for 8 p.m. CT. 

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